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Staring into the Face of Hunger
A partnership of 15 church-based agencies has developed the concept of a food study tour to bring the reality of hunger closer to home.

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) doesn’t only want to feed the world, it wants to teach about what’s involved. With this in mind, this partnership of 15 church-based agencies has developed the concept of a food study tour to bring the reality of hunger closer to home.

Jerry Asling (fourth from left) along with members of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank food study program and Bangladesh church members who have partnered with CFGB.

CFGB is “intentional about designing tours that are educating participants about the root causes of hunger,” explains James Kornelson, CFGB’s newly appointed public engagement co-ordinator. The tours also examine how the actions we take for granted on a daily basis can influence those causes.

The tours started two decades ago when CFGB donors decided to follow up on shipments to ensure food was, in fact, reaching people’s mouths. This gradually expanded to include various trips throughout the year. In 2007 three tours travelled to Africa, Asia and Central America.

Jerry Asling, a 64-year-old dentist from Hanover, Ontario, was one of ten individuals who travelled to Asia in February.  Having donated to CFGB for years, Asling wanted to see his money in action.  After spending three weeks in India and Bangladesh, he was impressed with how CFGB co-operates with pre-existing groups rather than trying to fly solo. In doing so they’ve established credibility with the local people.

Not only does CFGB feed the hungry, it also enables the hungry to feed themselves by providing funds for building irrigation ditches, digging wells, initiating self-help groups for women and assisting farmers whose land has been destroyed by natural disasters.

“The people were really appreciative of the work the CFGB has done in helping them there,” Asling says.

Crystal Scott participated in a 2006 study tour, staying with 13 other Canadians in a Kenyan village, hosted by the families of small-scale farmers. Despite their struggle to survive, the Kenyans she met “were so happy and full of hope for the future,” she recalls. “Their kindness will be long remembered and appreciated.”

Ledah went to Honduras for two weeks with CFGB. “What I came to realize is that hunger and food justice are complex issues,” she says. “Experts still argue over the causes and the solutions to hunger, so how could I expect to learn everything after a brief two-week experience, intensive as it was?”

Such is the ultimate purpose behind the food study tour: to whet a person’s appetite for knowing more about the world in which we live.

“We need to focus a lot of energy on building positive and healthy relationships that don’t place any emphasis on who is a ‘donor’ and who is a ‘recipient,’” says Kornelson. “The strength is that CFGB is a Christian organization. People who belong to God have an instant basis for friendship and a framework for action in the world.” CFGB member churches include Adventist, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Reformed, Pentecostal, Evangelical Missionary, Mennonite, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Anglican, Salvation Army and United Church plus several others represented by World Relief Canada.

Emily Wierenga is a writer based in Blyth, Ontario.

Originally published in Faith Today, July/August 2008.

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